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Lamb Meatballs with Red Pepper and Chickpea Sauce from Nancy Silverton of Campanile in Los Angeles

Lamb Meatballs with Red Pepper and Chickpea Sauce from Nancy Silverton of Campanile in Los Angeles
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Campanile in Chaplin’s Day

I used to spend a lot of time in Los Angeles, sometimes for weeks on end. As an Advertising Agency creative, I was there making TV commercials for everything from Coca Cola to Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.  Inevitably, we had clients along for the ride.  It seemed to be their birthright to be wined and dined daily and so I spent a great deal of time in a lot of great Los Angeles restaurants.  On somebody else’s dollar.  I was fond of a lot of places. High on my list was Campanile.  The building it was in looked for all the world like it belonged somewhere in Italy, certainly not on South La Brea Avenue.  But it was pure Hollywood.

Campanile when Peel and Silverton took over

Charlie Chaplin built the place as an office complex for himself in 1929.  He never occupied it.  Instead, one of his many wives, Lita Grey, who at aged 19 had been married to Chaplin for 3 years and produced two children, was given the property in her divorce settlement. But its real fame came far later when Chef Mark Peel and his then-wife, Nancy Silverton, opened Campanile to great acclaim in 1989.  The restaurant is credited with setting the tone for much of Los Angeles dining in the 1990s.  It used farmer’s market ingredients and produced gorgeous food.  So I when I came across today’s recipe and saw Nancy Silverton’s name attached to it, I was intrigued.
Nancy Silverton is every bit as well-known as her former husband. She started La Brea

Nancy Silverton

Bakery in the Campanile space, actually opening her bakery before the restaurant had even opened.  She was most famous for her artisanal breads.  These were made with a recipe she worked months to perfect.  She used grapes for their natural yeast.  After soaking them in flour and water for days, she mixed the dough, shaped the loaves by hand and let them rise for a two-day period.   The resulting bread was so popular that within weeks of opening, she was selling $1000.00 worth a day.  The restaurant was just as popular both with the press and the public.  I wish this story had a happier ending:  She sold La Brea Bakery to an Irish investment group for huge sums of money.

La Brea Bakery at Campanile

Her share was $5,000,000 which she promptly invested with a man named Bernard Madoff.  Do I need to finish the story?   She and Mark Peel had separated in 2005 and she left Campanile in 2007.  The restaurant itself became history when Mark Peel could not match the rent two fellow restauranteurs could afford. And so he lost his lease when the building’s owner, Larry Silverton, accepted their rival offer. Larry Silverton was Peel’s former father-in-law.

Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina
This recipe was first published in Food and Wine Magazine in 2005. Nancy Silverton gives credit for it to Matthew Molina, a former Chef de Cuisine at Campanile.   In my never-ending search for new ways to use familiar proteins, I was drawn to the use of lamb here.  The meatballs are magnificent with very little filler at all.  No breadcrumbs whatsoever making this recipe Gluten-Free.  They are garlick-y and full of flavor.   But what really makes the dish pop is the Red Pepper and Chickpea sauce.   The meatballs are shuffled off to one side of the pan just before they are completely cooked through.  The roasted red pepper sauce and the chick peas are added.  And both lamb meatballs and chickpeas soak up the luscious sauce.  This takes all of 40 minutes.  The recipe shown is for eight. I think that’s stretching it. I halved it and two of us devoured what should have been for 4 people. Here is the recipe: 

2 thoughts on “Lamb Meatballs with Red Pepper and Chickpea Sauce from Nancy Silverton of Campanile in Los Angeles”

  • Long before the old Chaplin building housed Campanile, it was an office building, where my best friend’s father’s office was. In the early 1960s, we’d take a bus on Wilshire Blvd. from John Burroughs Jr. High together, and her dad would drive us to Hebrew School.. Sometimes he was busy and couldn’t leave right away, and we would explore the building. It had an open central courtyard in those days.

    • Thank you so much Zora for sharing that memory with us. It had that courtyard when it became Il Campanile as well. It was a wonderful place. Have you tried Nancy Silverton’s Gelato? You can buy it on Gold Belly. I just gave it to our grandson for his birthday and it was a big hit. Bon Appetit! Monte

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